Honduras: The world shrugs at a coup

More than a month after Honduran President Manuel Zelaya was ousted, the countries of the Americas are still dithering and there is no concerted international effort to reinstate him.

It ought to be obvious how to respond to a military coup: Denounce it and take firm measures to restore the deposed leader to power, said Andres Oppenheimer in Argentina’s La Nación. But it has been more than a month since Honduran President Manuel Zelaya was ousted, and the countries of the Americas are still dithering. In the U.S., which should be the leader of the international response, Honduras “has become the center of a fierce partisan fight.” At first, President Obama came out strongly in favor of returning Zelaya to power. But he failed to back up his words with any action. Since then, Republicans have begun to argue that the leftist Zelaya deserved to be removed from office because of “his alleged violations of the constitution”—which may be true but doesn’t explain why he couldn’t have been arrested and tried in accordance with the law. These Republicans “are not among those who normally pay attention to Latin America.” It’s obvious they are merely using Honduras as a pretext to criticize Obama.

With Congress divided, the U.S. has punted on the issue, said Mexico’s La Jornada in an editorial. “U.S. diplomats assigned the mediating role” to Costa Rican President Oscar Arias, and it has proved beyond him. He came up with an unworkable power-sharing plan that would have effectively condoned the coup by joining coup leaders and Zelaya in a national unity government. The “Honduran lawbreakers” would have kept the power they took by military force, and Zelaya would have dropped his demand for a referendum on extending his term. Emboldened by this implicit endorsement, the coup plotters rejected the plan, assuming that if they just sit tight, they will eventually win international recognition. Unfortunately, they may be right. With Arias unsympathetic and the White House distracted, there is no concerted international effort to restore Zelaya to his legitimate post as president.

Meanwhile, Nicaragua is stuck with him, said Mauricio Miranda in Nicaragua’s El Nuevo Diario. Zelaya is camped out on our side of the border, holding rallies against “what is now the de facto government of Honduras.” The Honduran military has sent troops to the border, and “the situation could easily become dangerous.” People who live in the area complain that Honduran warplanes have been buzzing their villages. Yet Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega “refuses to clarify” just what legal status Zelaya enjoys here, even as he seems to be allowing the deposed president to set up a government in exile.

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Hondurans themselves are divided over Zelaya, said Myriam Vachez in Mexico’s Reforma. The new Honduran government has the support of just 41 percent of the people, while 46 percent say they disapprove of it. Still, “I don’t believe that many of those in that 46 percent would be willing to shed their blood to return Zelaya to power.” Before the coup, a majority of Hondurans were alarmed at Zelaya’s closeness to other leftist leaders, notably Venezuelan firebrand Hugo Chávez, and they would not have been sorry to see him go. “They just feel that a coup was not the smartest way to achieve that.” Even now, they would probably accept a deal that allowed Zelaya to serve out his term, which ends in just a few months anyway. So despite the escalating rhetoric, there’s plenty of hope yet for negotiations. Let’s hope that’s what we get—and not bloodshed.

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